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One of the lucky ones

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Gavin Strachan | 15:10 UK time, Thursday, 14 May 2009

Hi. Hope you are all well.

During the free time available to me since the end of the season, I have been reading up (yes, players do read!) on the various initiatives that the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) are involved in.

One scheme which caught my eye is called the Progression strategy.

Run by the PFA and LFE (League Football Education), it is designed to deal with the "fall out" from professional football among young players - in other words, the 40% of apprentices who do not earn a professional contract.

In order to help these young players, a series of "assessment trials" were organised.

The trials took place on 12, 13 and 14 May at different locations around the country.

The aim is to re-route as many of these players as possible into either professional or semi-professional football in the UK and across Europe. There are also a number of universities from both the UK and the USA looking to recruit these players on sports scholarships.

Another initiative I noticed is called Pitch2Podium, the aim of which is to take young football and rugby players who had not been able to secure professional contracts in these sports and give them an opportunity to try out for an Olympic sport.

All of this makes me appreciate that I am one of the lucky ones.

Regardless of what my future holds in the world of football, I can at least look back on a career which has spanned over a decade and provided me with some great memories.

In contrast, these young lads are staring down the barrel of their careers being over before they have really begun.

It is heartening to know that there is help for them at hand in the form of the PFA and LFE.

My advice to any of the young players who have just been released would be to make the most of the support these organisations provide.

In all honesty, I was fairly slow to take advantage of the support the PFA provides for its members in my younger days. I put this down to the ignorance of youth!

As a young footballer at a Premiership club, I somewhat stupidly took the view that none of the meetings that the PFA arranged for us applied to me.

As I have got older and gradually slipped down the football ladder, I have realised how fortunate we are to have the PFA to back us up. Now I enlist their help at every opportunity.

For the most part, the only time we hear about the PFA in the media is when it is called upon to intervene in cases such as players not getting paid or are in trouble in other ways. The services they provide for their members are much wider than that.

For example, the PFA helps players with mortgage and general finance advice, injury insurance, car insurance, house insurance, advice on contract negotiations and will even help you with your will. At one time or another, I have taken advantage of all these services.

No less important is the PFA's input with regards to educational courses.

As a rule, the PFA either funds half of your course or helps to run courses that are heavily subsidised for you. My sports journalism course is one example.

A lot of my current or former team-mates have enrolled on courses, some of which are not what many would class as synonymous with professional footballers.

A good friend of mine, Peter Gain (Dagenham and Redbridge) was training to be a gas engineer, while another former team-mate Mark Tinkler (Hartlepool United) enrolled on a massage course.

There was also Josh Low (my former Peterborough United team-mate) who was training to be a solicitor, and another lad training to be a forensic scientist. It looks like the days of ex-players buying pubs are well and truly gone!

The simple fact is that the vast majority of players who have spent a large part of their careers in the lower leagues need to find a trade once their professional football career has ended. As I have said, the quicker they can start preparing themselves for this, the better.

Still on the subject of courses, this week has marked the start of my Uefa B (part 2) coaching qualification.

The whole concept of the coaching badges and what badge is needed to coach at various levels can be quite complex and has led to a fair degree of controversy.

Take the cases of Gareth Southgate and Avram Grant, when they took the reins at Middlesbrough and Chelsea without having the required Uefa Pro licence.

It came as quite a surprise to me when I discovered that there are no such requirements outside the Premier League. You do not need any coaching qualifications to become a manager at a Football League club.

As far as I understand it, the Uefa B (part 2) which I am enrolled on is the third qualification out of five. If (and it is a big if) I pass this course I would then progress to the Uefa A licence and then the Uefa Pro licence.

The Hawthorns

My own course has been taking place at The Hawthorns, home of West Bromwich Albion and is run by the PFA. Almost all of the 25 people on it are either current or ex-professional players.

The path my own career has taken is probably best summed up by the fact that at some point, I have played with the vast majority of those 25!

They include my accomplished former Coventry City team-mates Lee Carsley, Gary Breen and Paul Williams, as well as some lower league stalwarts such as Guy Branston, Richard Butcher and Kevin Pilkington.

The course itself is fairly intense (each day we start at 9.30am and finish at 4.30pm) and comprises a mixture of theory, practical sessions and other related topics such as match analysis.

During the practical sessions, we coach each other. I am used to coaching eight-year old kids, so to then coach highly respected international players and players who have had successful careers in the lower leagues is quite different, especially as I don't have the deterrent of telling their mums if they misbehave.

It is particularly strange coaching Gary Breen and Paul Williams. I was a YTS at Coventry City when they were established pros at the club. Whereas I used to pick up their dirty kit after training, I am now trying to show them the art of defending crosses!

If that makes me feel old, I dread to think how it makes them feel...


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